One of the questions we frequently get when discussing sublimation is a fairly simple one “What can you sublimate?”. The answer, the basic one, is fairly simple too, anything made of polyester fabric or with a poly coating. Where it becomes complicated is when the question morphs from simply “what can I sublimate” to “what kind of garments can I sublimate” or “what sells better sublimated hard goods or sublimated garments?” or the ever popular “I’m adding sublimation to my shop, what sublimated goods should I offer?”.
One way to answer these questions is to consider the market to which you will be selling. Some markets love hard goods, personalized puzzles, water bottles for fun runs, plaques for sporting competitions, souvenirs for local tourist attractions, all that stuff can be snapped up quickly. Other markets, on the other hand, are all about garments. Sweatshirts, polos, hats, socks, you name it, they want it decorated. In this market, hardgoods would not have as much appeal. So, a lot depends on the make-up and preferences of your particular market. You have to know that before deciding what sublimated items to offer.
Another way to answer the question is to look at the possibilities. Sublimation can be a great method for decorating garments, but it does have some limitations. The items to be decorated must be polyester only. Because sublimation dyes the fabric, anything but a white garment will interact with and effect the color of the finished design. Sublimation also has no option for white ink, so it doesn’t work well on very dark colors. All over sublimation is very popular, but it works best on fabric which is sublimated and then sewn into a garment. On the other side of the coin, however, sublimation dyes the fabric, so designs have no hand. Because designs are dyed into the garment, the design is also pretty much guaranteed to last as long as the garment does. There have also been great advances in the look and wearability of polyester garments, so they are now much more attractive to consumers.
When it comes to hardgoods, the first thing to mention is that anything that is to be sublimated must have a polyester coating. There are a number of distributors, EnMart among them, who sell sublimatible blanks, so finding a source for hardgoods to sublimate shouldn’t be too difficult. The problem here may be that a decorator would be spoiled for choice, faced with such an array of blanks from which to choose. It should also be noted that mastering the technique necessary for sublimating some hardgoods may take time and practice. Sublimating hardgoods may also require special jigs or platens for a heat press, so that should be considered as well.
In the final analysis, the items you sublimate will most likely be determined partly by what the market wants, partly by what you enjoy doing, and partly by what items you put in the effort to sell. There is no hard and fast rule about what sublimated good will work for every situation. It’s up to you to do the research and to know your market well enough to make educated choices about what sublimated goods to stock.